I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.
Today’s post is also a part of the 2012 Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference Blogger Challenge, in which bloggers are invited to write about an aspect of women’s health.
At the time my older son was conceived, I was an active runner. I wasn’t as into racing as I am now, but I was in good shape and I hit the road regularly. Running was logistically easier in those pre-baby days, when I didn’t have to worry about whether I’d had enough sleep and who was going to watch the kids.
I had intended to continue running throughout my pregnancy, but my body had other plans for me. Pregnancy wreaked havoc with the fluid in my inner ear, so I developed the inconvenient tendency to simply fall over without warning. This obviously meant that running would be too much of a risk, especially during the tail-end of winter when there was still a lot of ice on the ground.
After my son was born, I started running again, but only for a few months before I got injured. That was when my six-year break from running started. There was always something that kept me out of it – injury, illness, post-partum depression, plain old garden-variety depression – before I finally found the right motivation to start running again in earnest three years ago.
Combining motherhood with running can be a tricky endeavour, especially when you add a full-time job and special needs parenting into the mix. But with a bit of practice and planning, it is possible to strike the right balance, and it is very worthwhile.
Today, I offer you some tips on how you can successfully combine running with being a mom. These tips do not come from any books or websites. They come from my own experiences.
1. Lose any preconceived notions of what a female runner “should” look like.
Pregnancy and childbirth can really do a number on a woman’s body image. Our post-baby bodies include new wobbly bits (unless you are blessed with spectacular genetic material), larger-than-before breasts that now serve a practical purpose, and stretch marks that make our bellies look like a railway network. Some of us are self-conscious about the way our bodies look, and we are reluctant to go out in public wearing shorts and tank tops.
We tend to have this idea that in order to run, women have to be skinny and flat-chested. I get a lot of women telling me that they would love to run, but cannot because they are not built for it, or because their breasts are too big. From experience, I can tell you that those are not good reasons not to run. I am not skinny by any stretch of the imagination, and I am definitely not flat-chested. Barring any serious medical conditions, anyone who wants to run can run, no matter what size or shape they are.
Yes, it is true that the women who win the Olympic marathons are skinny and flat-chested, but you’re not trying to win the Olympic marathon. You are doing this for yourself. And if you have a post-baby body to contend with, wear it with pride. It serves as a reminder of the life you have borne.
2. Remember that women have unique nutritional needs.
Women have to deal with all kinds of stuff that men never have to think about. Our bones start to degenerate after a certain age, and this increases our calcium needs. We have periods every month that deplete our iron stores and can throw our entire bodies temporarily out of synch. For the time we are nursing babies, our bodies are directing all of the good nutrients to our breast milk, leaving us with just the leftovers to live on.
There are scores of books out there that talk in general terms about what runners are supposed to eat and when. The material you read can be confusing and downright contradictory. I have come to the conclusion that different things work for different people. Whatever eating plan you end up adopting, you need to ensure that the nutritional needs unique to women are taken care of.
Here are a few basics:
- Eat foods rich in iron and folic acid, particularly during your menstrual cycles.
- Increase your consumption of Vitamin C: this has been shown to improve the body’s efficiency in absorbing iron.
- As you get into your 40’s, start taking calcium supplements to compensate for the hit that your bones start to take in middle age.
- If you are nursing, you need anywhere from 500-1500 extra calories per day, and that’s before you take into account the calories you burn while running. Make sure you are well fed on nutritional stuff, and take along an energy bar when you go running.
3. Get the right support structure.
Whether you are small- or large-breasted, or somewhere in the middle, a good sports bra is essential. The last thing you want to deal with while you’re running is your boobs bouncing around like ping-pong balls. It is not only uncomfortable, it is downright painful. Although I speak from the standpoint of someone with large breasts, I have spoken to women who made the mistake of thinking that their breasts were small enough for them to do without a sports bra. With a couple of exceptions, they have bitterly regretted it.
If you are small-breasted, you can probably get away with getting your bra from a sporting goods retailer. Larger-breasted women could benefit greatly from being professionally fitted at a specialist bra shop that carries sports bras. No matter where you get your bra from, it is important to ensure a good fit. Not only can ill-fitting sports bras add to the bounce, they can lead to very painful chafing.
If you have just had a baby, be aware that the size of your breasts probably changed during your pregnancy. Don’t assume that what fitted you before will still fit you now. The same applies to moms whose babies have recently been weaned from the breast. As your body’s production of milk slows down, the size and shape of your breasts may alter.
Nursing mothers who want to wear breast pads should take precautions to ensure that they don’t shift during the run. When I ran as a new mother, I secured my breast pads with surgical tape and that worked well enough.
4. Make it a family thing.
You don’t have to force your husband and children to go running with you, but at least enlist their support. Tell your significant other about your intentions to run, and let him or her be a part of the planning. You will need someone to watch the kids while you are out, and if that same someone massages your aching feet at the end of the day, so much the better! Most running moms I’ve spoken to report having supportive partners, and that makes all the difference.
For those with young babies, running can be logistically very easy. All you need, apart from your running gear, is a baby jogger – a three-wheeled stroller designed for motion. Look for a baby jogger that can be adjusted to have the baby forward-facing or rear-facing. These strollers do not have wheels like regular strollers, they have tires that look almost like bicycle tires. That makes them suitable for a variety of terrains and weather conditions. Not only is this a fun way to bond with your baby, pushing the extra pounds as you run is a great booster of upper body strength!
Running with older children can be immensely enjoyable as well. My younger son, now six, is showing an interest in running. He ran his first kiddie’s race last year, and he plans to more. I often take him out with me on a Sunday, just for a kilometre or two, and then I drop him off at home with my husband before heading out for my longer run
5. Enjoy the me-time
People run for different reasons. Some runners are competitive, and are in it to win the races. Others want to get fit, or lose weight, or address some specific health issue. Some people simply run because they like it. Whatever your primary reason for running is, use it as an opportunity to switch off from the day-to-day business of parenting. Allow your mind to wander a little – bearing safety in mind, of course. Get an iPod and listen to some music. For a busy mom, it can be incredibly liberating to pound the pavement for a few miles. It is a great stress-reliever, it loosens the joints, and it refreshes the mind. When you get back home after your run, you will feel ready – and eager – to step back into role of Mom.
Disclaimer: The information given in this blog post, or anywhere on this website, is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional.
(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)